It has been a few years since the Deltron 3030 album was released, and we have had time to partially answer the question: was the idea of a concept album about a 31st century mechawarrior\rapper merely an experiment in novelty and absurdity, or was Del inventing a new genre of expression?
The album, which never was noted in the mainstream press, created an underground sensation just from the surprise that people had about the mention of Gamera, espers, Microsoft, Strange Brew and other such things in a rap album. Some people took this album to be absurdist collage, along the lines of Dr. Octagon.
However, several years later and this is still one of my favorite albums, so I think it goes beyond the absurdity quotient. Even if Del had taken away his highly referenced, multithreaded topic style he would still have some central themes he was dealing with in this work.
My views on what Del is getting at are prejudiced by my study of Chinese literature. Del is a student of Japanese culture, so there is a good chance that he knows a bit about the traditions of China. Of course, Del could just be so smart that he redicovered some common cultural themes on his own.
Chinese culture is centered around three major religions or belief systems: which (oversimplifed) are Taoism, dealing with shamanistic knowledge of the patterns of the natural world, Confucianism, dealing with ways of performing social and ethical responsibilities, and Buddhism, dealing with knowledge of absolute reality.
The Deltron album revolves around these three themes: in some of Del's most innovative, exciting language, he describes the shamanistic powers he gets, and the entities he interacts with: "Quantum jump, I'm right at your doorstep" and "my styles protected, by heat shield and ceramic" in Positive Contact, "telepathic mind that takes its greatness from the matrix" on the title track, "Convert solar-energy, into imagery
In the mind's eye" in Things you Can Do, "I bust out an acapella that's astounding
Project a uni-beam through
Pulled out my x-ray cannons to disintegrate the phantom" in Battle Song, and so on throughout the album. Perhaps I am reading too much into these to call them shamanstic powers, in many ways they just represent years of bragadocius rap boasts. I think however, they represent a true description of magical powers that a shaman would acquire, put through a science fiction lens.
However, Del's powers aren't just for the purpose of gaining power. Del's social conscious comes in, as rebels from the grim post-apocalyptic world and tries to bring civilization back to a blighted world. In comparison to some of Del's non-Deltron work, the social ideas here are somewhat messianic and overblown, especially when you consider his songs on bus ettiquette, the proper attitude for guests to have or showing respect for parents. In some songs, however, he confronts the contradictions of living in the world he does, both as Del and Deltron: "paid out the asshole and still seen as another face on the totem pole, my sponsors are monsters, and everyone thinks that I'm one" on "Madness", and the line from the penultimate track, "Memory Loss": "government shoeless rations are five dollars for hourly intervals, I get a G for that, so believe me black, what I am spitting out is what I am giving back", where Del looks at the state of the world, and realizes that perhaps, even with his powers, there isn't much he can do about it.
Which brings him to the third state of belief, a Buddhistic knowledge that the world is in some ways an illusion. This is not as prevalent on the album, but does come in as a final conclusion, in "Memory Loss", where along with references to reincarnation, he states: "Life is like a dream, when I die, I wake up", using a Buddhist metaphor also to be found in the Hong Lou Meng as well as The Journey to the West. He follows this up with "and see all the people I disrespected and try to make up, this praise for the creator relates to nature", giving the albums only reference to a personal deity.
This is followed by the closing track of Damon Albarn stating: "we were always coming back", perhaps an admission that Del's fantasy world, for all of its struggles, is just an illusion, and that his real world may be similiarly an illusion.
So, while the Deltron album did gain fame for its geek crossover appeal, it seems to have a depth to it that goes beyond simple absurdity, and can probably be interpreted a number of ways.